I had this suspicion for a while.
It grew while talking to a friend who hated his job and was convinced he needed a six-figure income just to survive.
(He doesn’t. The median household income in the US was $68,703 in 2019 which clearly shows that many Americans survive without a six-figure income.)
I thought back to what it had felt like to regularly get a nice, large sum deposited into my bank account back when I was a lawyer. It felt good.
And then I thought about what it had felt like to get my first-ever donation for a meditation I had recorded. It felt great. It was just $20 and yet, it made me feel like I was on top of the world. Like anything was possible.
I then recalled one of my coaching clients. We recently celebrated his first income as a writer. It was $0.01 and he was happy about it.
What all this showed me is that one of the fundamental premises we have about money is wrong: that $1 is always $1.
It’s not. And no, I’m not talking about the confusing fact that there are many, many dollars, including the
- US dollar,
- Canadian dollar,
- Australian dollar,
- Hong Kong dollar,
- New Taiwan dollar,
- Jamaican dollar,
and, and, and, for a total of over 20 currencies (thanks, Wikipedia).
No, the relativity of money goes beyond the exchange rate between the US and the Canadian dollar. Introducing:
The Relativity of Money Theory
The Relativity of Money Theory (or short: RMT because if I get to give it a fancy name, I might as well also throw in an acronym) suggests that where money comes from matters.
If money comes from a good place, we experience it as more nourishing and more positive. For some strange reason, that often means we need less of it.
If you have a friend who quit a job they hated and are now doing what they love, you may have noticed this strange effect that defies the fundamental laws of mathematics: even though they used to struggle financially while working in a job they hated, your friend suddenly gets by on less now that their income comes from a positive place.
There are many possible reasons for this. One of the most convincing ones is that someone who earns “dead” money (for instance, from a company they secretly despise) feels the need to spend more of that money to get a sense of aliveness, from new gadgets, or clothes, or fancy experience.
In contrast, someone who earns money from something that makes them feel alive doesn’t need to use it to try and fill a hole that money can’t fill.
It’s kind of like how someone who eats empty calories has to eat more to get their basic nutritional needs met than someone who chooses healthy food.
Why money is (kind of) like calories
Saying that $100 is always $100 is like saying that 1000 calories are always 1000 calories. In a way it’s true. If you’re starving, getting an additional 1000 calories or $100 (assuming you’re in a place and time where money can be traded for food) is great news.
However, in another way and in non-survival situations, numbers themselves are pretty meaningless without context.
Say you’re getting paid $100? Are you getting paid for your passion or your pain? Surely it would feel better to earn $100 from pursuing your life-long dream to be a musician and giving your first concert than to earn $100 from scamming old ladies out of their retirement money.
And surely 1000 calories from healthy food would make you feel different than 1000 calories from a piece of sugary cake.
Those $100 and those 1000 calories are not created equally. When it comes to calories, we all know that. It’s why we talk about empty calories.
Empty calories and empty money
Empty calories are calories that contain “little to no other nutrition in the way of vitamins, minerals, protein, fibre, or essential fatty acids.”
Similarly, we could say that empty money is money that contributes “little to nothing to its owner’s wellness, happiness, or contentment.”
The concept of empty money explains why some people can be billionaires and still don’t feel like they’re successful or abundant enough.
It might also be the reason why my friend thought that he needs to have a six-figure salary to make it through life, even though many people in his country get by on less.
It also explains some people I have met seem to do well in life, even though they might not earn that much.
How to explore this in your own life
If you want to experience what I alluded to in your own life, try to get paid for something that you love to do. Don’t quit your job or change anything else in your life.
Just try to make your first $0.01 from doing what you love.
That cent is much, much more than just a cent.
It’s a beginning. It’s hope. It’s a promise for the future.
And when it gets to be more, when you earn $100 or $1000 from doing what you love, it suddenly becomes something else that’s equally breathtaking: proof of concept.
As you keep on adding zeros to your first $0.01 you will notice that your life improves. That you have much, much more than just an additional $10 or $100 in the bank account.
You have a sign that you’re doing something good in your life. That you’re helping people who are happy to pay you for your help. That’s a feeling money can’t buy.
Welcome to “enlivening” money!
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